So, I mentioned previously that my wife and I were going to Germany for our honeymoon. We went in early September, and were there for a little over a week. It was a great trip, and I’m glad to have been able to go.
Obviously, with my love for the German language, I was excited for the opportunity to be surrounded by it and try out my skills in a real world setting. I ran into two major issues though, one of which I had read about many times, and the other which I (sort of) expected:
- The vast majority of Germans we interacted with spoke excellent English, and often started out with it. Once they could tell we were English speakers, there was no going back.
- When they did speak German (or when, let’s be honest, I was trying to eavesdrop on Germans around me for listening practice), I… couldn’t understand much. Sure, I could understand basic questions / statements, but a lot of the time, it was a case of, “Okay, I understood that word and.. that one.. and.. what did they just say?”
I fully expected the first issue. The second was kind of expected too, but not to the extent that it happened. I’ll be honest: it was rough. I was struggling with feeling like I was a major failure in the language realm. I’ve been tinkering with German for years now, have read books in the language, read news stuff all the time, listen to podcasts… and then there I was, in Germany, scratching my head at what native Germans were saying. It was not a great feeling. While there and after getting home, I’ve struggled with the question: what have I been wasting my time on? I’ve spent countless hours learning German. If I couldn’t understand native Germans, what’s been the point?
For a brief bit of time, I was considering giving up on foreign languages – calling it quits, selling off all of my materials, and moving on. I’m still not feeling great about the whole experience, but I’ve reflected on it enough to rein myself back from giving up, and have a couple of thoughts on the matter.
First, I don’t listen enough. I never have, really. Reading and, to a lesser extent, writing, have always been my primary method of learning. That problem has long been on my radar, and I’ve made some attempts to correct it, but it’s still the way I lean in my studies. So it’s no real surprise that I struggled to drop into Germany running, so to speak.
Second, while it’s certainly not the whole reason I was struggling, I do know that dialects / regional accents were coming in to play. It’s not like everything was 100% unintelligible. I could catch half the words, some here, some there, and then others were just leaving me with the feeling of, “is that even German?” So I was left with the feeling of, “I feel like I kinda’, sorta’ know what they’re talking about, but not exactly.”
Third, and perhaps most importantly (to me)… does it really matter? When I really get down to it, I don’t need to be able to operate in a native setting with any of my languages beyond English. I live in America, in a small town with more or less zero international presence whatsoever. I think I’ve heard German spoken here once, by a Polish professor. I’ve never heard French or Russian spoken here, and most likely, never will (especially in regards to Russian). I am not an international spy. I have no need to be able to pass myself off as a native German. At base, I simply enjoy learning languages, even if I will never have any real use for them (Old Icelandic, anyone?) If I, for some reason, moved to Germany, I’m sure I’d be able to get my speaking and listening skills up to par in a short amount of time. But currently, I just have no pressing need to do so. So I shall continue on puttering about with my languages, and be content with that.